June 12, 2004 at 11:03 am #47063
my parents told me about this + it sounds serious ! … i was living in md the last time this happened, but somehow i don’t really remember it …
Soon, the Deafening Calls To That One in a Gazillion
By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page C01
By itself, a male cicada pumps out a fair amount of noise for a bug. But a few thousand of them, packed wing-to-wing on tree branches, can sound at close range as loud as a subway train entering a station. Or a screaming child. Or a jackhammer.
So that is the volume: maximum. And the quality of the sound? Otherworldly. "Organic white noise," says David Kane, a Silver Spring composer.
Christine Simon, one of the country’s premier cicada experts, a precisely spoken evolutionary biologist, resorts to Hollywood to find a metaphor. A mass of singing cicadas, she says, sounds like "flying saucers from a 1950s sci-fi film."
For the next few weeks, in the District and 15 eastern states, the insects’ droning-hissing-clicking roar will become the outdoor soundtrack of this spring and early summer.
They quiet down come nightfall, if that is any consolation. And they do it, if not for love, at least for procreation. The males create all the din. The females, if they have been warmed by the sun and like what they hear, respond with a flick of the wings. In cicadaville, that means "Come hither."
Here is where we are so far in the tale of these once-in-every-17-years beasties. Early last week in the Washington area — following the lead taken by cicadas in some warmer southern states — the insects began crawling out of the earth. Emerging as nymphs, they molted into adulthood, shedding their tan-colored nymphal exoskeletons and unfurling crinkly, amber-veined wings to complement their black bodies and red eyes.
Many have died — under foot, under wheel, between beak and jaw. Many have dodged their predators to crawl or fly into the treetops to bask in the sun some more.
Here and there, some males have begun to tune up. Gaye Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, says she has heard individuals and small groups of cicadas in Annapolis. Cicada Web sites report similar rumblings.
Williams knows what the full blast sounds like, when the bugs gather in densely packed "chorusing centers." In 1987, she and a colleague were measuring the sound amid some cicada-infested trees in Fort Meade. She recorded readings in the mid-90-decibel range.
"It got to the point where your skin starts to crawl," she said. "It’s the physiological effect of all that noise."
After they have mated, the females will deposit their eggs in the thin branches of trees. No later than early July, the noise will cease. All the adults will be dead. They will have spent 99 percent of their lives underground, and the tiny remainder up here with us, singing.
Cicada sounds have been celebrated by the Greeks of antiquity, Japanese haikuists and modern-day poets. Homer, in the Iliad, compares the discourse of "sage chiefs exempt from war" to the cicadas’ song, according to J.G. Myers’s 1929 classic study, "Insect Singers."
It seems that little or nothing in the way of a competing noise can disturb a group of chorusing cicadas. In the early 1900s, a French entomologist named Jean-Henri Fabre fired two cannon rounds near trees full of cicadas to see if they would stop. They didn’t.
The males make their noise with sound organs known as tymbals, which include ribbed membranes that buckle back and forth the way a piece of metal does when popped in and out. Each species produces a distinctive sound. The dominant species emerging now, Magicicada septendecim, creates an "unvarying droning tone" when heard in mass numbers, says David Marshall, a University of Connecticut entomologist. Two other species will add hissing and clicking to the mix.
Only now are humans learning to make music as cicadas do. Tamara Smyth, a lecturer in musical acoustics at Stanford University, has borrowed from this structure to create what she calls the "tymbalimba," a device that allows a player to finger buckling ribs to control computer-generated sounds.
"I wasn’t able to find one instrument that used that mechanism," she says.
David Dunn, a composer and bioacoustic researcher in Santa Fe, N.M., has spent a lot of time listening to insects and creating music from their sounds. He knows that most people’s reaction to insect noises is "somewhere between a fear response and an annoyance response."
It does not surprise him that many people equate the sound of the cicadas with machinery: the humming of air-conditioners, the buzzing of power lines, the whirring of spaceships.
"Most of us live in environments dominated by those kinds of sounds," he says. "The sounds with which we have replaced the patterns of the natural world."
Part of his mission is to get people to listen to nature and its sounds. "It’s really a matter of getting people back to paying attention, rather than reacting to them as if they were a disturbance."
For Marshall, who has studied periodical cicadas and their sounds, their music suggests what North America was like an eon ago, when these bugs rose to the top of an unpopulated continent’s vast forests to chorus and cavort. "It gives me a sense of awe at . . . the scale of evolutionary time," he says.
In Silver Spring, composer Kane is getting ready to turn the tables on cicadas. He is writing a piece of music commissioned by the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in North Bethesda that is scheduled for performance July 29.
The working title is "Emergence: The Cicada Serenade." He has prepared for his work by listening to recordings of cicadas. "It’s unlike any other sound I’ve ever heard in nature," he says.
But his ambition for his own piece is not to emphasize difference: "I want it to reflect the insectlike character of our lives . . . this vast rush to get things done before we vanish."
Ã‚Â© 2004 The Washington Post CompanyJune 12, 2004 at 11:07 am #102960
apparantly the "chorus" can reach about 90 decibels …June 12, 2004 at 11:13 am #102961June 12, 2004 at 4:36 pm #102962
The cicadas are headed my way I`ve heard Giant Sand have a song called Dance Of The Cicacas :aliensmile:June 14, 2004 at 10:11 am #102963
i think they’re cool + not scary at all … i like their sound + their look … … do they normally get up to canada ? or is this a case of global warming ?June 14, 2004 at 11:55 am #102964
Not sure if it`s global warming but I`ve heard they`re coming here soon in the millionsJune 14, 2004 at 1:42 pm #102965
i noticed your birthday is coming up v.shortly … got anything special planned ??June 14, 2004 at 2:11 pm #102966
yeah, i live in the dc area. its a concrete jungle around my house, so its not too bad there. out farther in the suburbs, it sounds like the end of the world. some neighborhoods stink from the smell of rotting bug corpses. absolutlely nutsJune 14, 2004 at 2:14 pm #102967
yuck !! well, my parents live in suburban md + they said their bug friends are dying off now … they never mentioned any stinkiness thoughJune 14, 2004 at 2:42 pm #102968
they are so loud.
we were camping in Mcconnelsbug PA last week.
They start around 7am and continue until dusk.
millions of them.
millions of holes in the ground where they came up from.
millions of dead shells on the ground.
the sound they make comes in waves up in the tree tops.
it’s pretty loud.
a nice lawn chair, a bowl of herbals, and the cicadas will put you to sleep.
I passed out for like 4 hours in the woods to their lullabye.
if you get a chance to see them, do so, or wait the next 17 years.June 14, 2004 at 5:54 pm #102969
Cool poster :aliensmile:
All those rotting bugs sound like a pretty nasty mess !
Apparently they are a pretty good source of protein when fresh… http://frontier.cincinnati.com/comments/threadView.asp?threadid=41″>http://frontier.cincinnati.com/comments … hreadid=41June 14, 2004 at 7:45 pm #102970
my friend lives about 40 miles from dc (suburbs stretch forever here) and he has inch deep mounds of shells for about a foot wide surrounding his treesJune 15, 2004 at 10:13 am #102971
i know … i can’t believe how much the dc metropolitan area has grown … i mean the suburbs are up to hagerstown now (right near the PA border) + i can’t see them stopping there … soon dc will merge into baltimore which will merge into philly which will merge into nyc … the east coast = mega gridlock …June 16, 2004 at 12:17 pm #102972
i blame the urban sprawl for the traffic situation here too. supposedly the worst on the east coast. baltimore is an hour from arlington, va (where i live) most times, but try 3 hours during rush hour. public transit around here leaves much to be desired as wellJune 16, 2004 at 2:14 pm #102973
yeah, it’s funny b/c they think they have bad traffic over here + i’m like, no way !!! i think if any londoner were to venture onto rockville pike at rush hour … well, it would be a real eye opener for them … or how about a trip from rockville to dulles any time in the pm … forget it !!! they’d just surrender …
and the public transportation is appalling, but isn’t that the case w/most of america ? with the exception of nyc … i don’t think that’s going to change any time soon, though ? do you ? is there a movement over there for improvement (and let’s face it, that wouldn’t be too difficult) … i do like the metro system trains … they’re fairly clean + safe + thank goodness they’re air conditioned, but there aren’t enough stops on the system + it stops running around midnight … this was always a problem when i was in high school + beyond … how do we get home from the 9.30 club … obviously you had to drive, but then where’s safe to park ? … quite a few of my friends were mugged + had their tires slashed + all sorts of bad stuff happened to them in dc late at night … especially the area the 9.30 club used to be in, which wasn’t residential + when the workers went home it was only the scary people left … ugh … bad memories …
+ speaking of public transport, what’s up w/amtrak now ? i heard they’re in big trouble too …
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